A Reflection by Sister Carol Clare Czyzewski, FSSJ
One thousand years after the time of Jesus and 800 years before our time, Giovanni Bernadone, aka “Francisco,” was born (1182-1226). St. Francis of Assisi was a layman. The essence of his life: His desire to live the Gospel. He asked, “Who are you, O God? Who am I?” In searching for the answers and in receiving permission of the Church to preach, Francis attracted followers.
One of them, Ignatius of Loyola, who wanted to be just like Francis (whose conversion also had roots in battle defeat as a knight) set off for the Holy Land. A wise cleric threatened Ignatius with excommunication if he didn’t return home to discern his God-given vocation!
Celebrating the October 4th Feast of St. Francis, consider the fruits of the Franciscan Movement:
800 years of followers: men and women—secular, vowed, and ordained, Catholic and Protestant. Among them: Maxmillian Kolbe; John XXIII; Padre Pio; Pius XII; Thomas More; Louis IX , King of France; Anthony of Padua; Agnes of Prague; Bonaventure; Elizabeth of Hungary; NGO at the United Nations as Franciscans International.
His followers have an ongoing dialogue with Islam and have spent 800 years in the Holy Land; they are leaders in ecology and devotions, e.g., crèche, stations of cross, holy name of Jesus. They share a theology that informs post-modern thought in the dialogue between religion and science. St. Francis is the patron saint of Italy; San Francisco, California; ecology; peacemakers and conscientious objectors.
The most concrete devotions that encapsulate Francis’ beliefs, practices, and mystical experiences are the crèche and the cross. God’s love in self-emptying humility absorbed Francis’ imagination. The first “live” crèche in a cave consisted of an empty crib below a simple stone for an altar where the Eucharist was celebrated—no Baby Jesus depicted but, rather, the Body of Christ on the altar as adored by Francis, the congregation, and two large animals.
The San Damiano Cross stands as prelude to Francis’ conversion; the Mount Alverno stigmata, as climax. In the earliest time of discerning his future, Francis, at the dilapidated chapel of San Damiano, heard Christ directing him to “Go, rebuild my church which is falling into ruins.” He attended to fortifying the building, which led to his inner transformation because he could accept his true self as loved by God. He could embrace the leper. He could see everyone and everything as sister and brother. He had a new view of reality from his contemplation of crib and cross.
Francis prayed: O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the Universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread!…Look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him!